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Scouting Combine Research Series: Safeties (Part 2)

Which top player considered quitting? Who is the small-school star? Who picked off 43 passes between high school and college? Those answers and more as we get to know the top safety prospects.

Here are the 26 safeties who have been invited to the Scouting Combine. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Heights and weights come from All players are seniors unless noted. For Part 1, CLICK HERE.  For Part 3, CLICK HERE.

Delano Hill, Michigan (6-1, 207): Hill was a two-year starter, including as a senior, when he was second-team all-Big Ten. All three career interceptions came as a senior, when he added 52 tackles, 4.5 tackles for losses, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. He had 46 tackles and two passes defensed as a junior. As a sophomore, he missed the start of the season with a broken jaw and was suspended for one game.

Younger brother Lavert Hill, a cornerback, just completed his freshman season at Michigan. “I just let him go,” Delano said. “He’s going to learn. I’m going to help him, but he’s going to learn. I ain’t ever going to hold his hand. I can teach him what he gets wrong, but he’s going to have to play for himself.”

Malik Hooker, Ohio State (6-2, 205): Redshirt sophomore. Hooker was a first-team All-American during a breakout season in which he intercepted seven passes — including a FBS-high three for touchdowns. He added 74 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses and four passes defensed all while playing through a torn labrum and hernia that required surgeries that will keep him from testing at the Combine.

Hooker was considered a Division I basketball prospect before he joined the football team at New Castle (Pa.) High School for his junior year. He was a respectful man among boys.

Early in his time at Ohio State, Hooker asked himself a huge question: Do I love football? Should I quit Ohio State and pursue basketball? “When I made my decision that I was going to come here and play football, I really didn’t think it through,” he said. “I mean, think about it. You play one year of (high school) football and Ohio State comes knocking on your door asking you to come play football here. There’s no way you can turn that down.”

He plays to honor a cousin who died in 2009 in an automobile accident and a cousin who was slain in a shooting in May. “It molded me into the person I am today. Not a lot of people are able to deal with something like that and be able to keep focused. Most of the time, people deal with a death – or two deaths – they tend to get off track and feel like they have nothing left to fight for. But I use that as motivation for myself.”

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Eddie Jackson, Alabama (6-0, 194): Jackson intercepted 10 passes during his four seasons. Jackson moved from cornerback to safety as a junior and responded with six interceptions and 46 tackles. His school-record 230 yards of interception returns included two for touchdowns. One of the interceptions was a tide-turning pick in the national title game vs. Clemson. Big things were in store for his senior season but he suffered a broken leg against Texas A&M in October. In eight games, he had one interception —a pick-six — and two more touchdowns with a 23.0-yard average on 11 punt returns. As a sophomore, he suffered a torn ACL in spring practice but still wound up starting 11 games.

Jackson was considered the heart of the Tide’s juggernaut defense. "When he went down, it seemed like he started talking more and more to us from sidelines during practice,” star cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “While I think him going down is definitely a bad thing, but as it turned out, he made it into a good thing, being a coach from the sidelines, especially with DBs.”

Jackson was a three-star wide receiver in high school who didn’t start playing football until his senior year. It was School of Hard Knocks as a freshman, as he explained in The Players’ Journal: “I’ll never forget lining up against Amari Cooper one day in practice when I was a freshman. He was just destroying me — making me look silly on every single play. I was embarrassed. At some point I looked over at Coach Saban, begging for some relief. Coach looked back at me and yelled, ‘Eddie, I’m not taking him off you, so you better get used to it!’ We ran another play. I got roasted again. And then, as we were walking back to the line, Coop said to me, “Every play you go up against me, you’re getting better. I’m gonna have you live next year, son!”

Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami (Fla.) (6-1, 220): Jenkins started for three seasons. He had three interceptions as a sophomore in 2013 but sat out all of 2014 following back surgery. Jenkins returned to intercept three passes as a junior and earned honorable-mention all-ACC as a senior with two interception, 76 tackles and seven passes defensed.

Imagine this scene at the dinner table: Jenkins is one of 16 kids. He’s especially close with one of his sisters, Charlisa, who plays college basketball at Gardner Webb. "We were competitive with each other, but it was more friendly than anything," Jenkins said. "It wasn't like we were trying to top each other; we just wanted to make each other better. I'm happy with the success they're having. My younger brother reminds me of myself when I played."

In 2013, he changed his number to No. 26 to honor the late Sean Taylor. "(Taylor) played the same position as me, and I always tried to study and emulate the way he played," Jenkins said. "He was a beast." In high school, he was a Florida state champion in the 110-meter hurdles.

Lorenzo Jerome, Saint Francis (Pa.) (5-10, 202): Jerome was a four-time all-NEC first-team selection as a defensive back and earned three all-NEC honors as a returner. He tallied 18 career interceptions, including six as a senior to finish third in FCS. He added 59 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five pass breakups and an 89-yard touchdown on a fumble return in 10 games. Plus, he ranked second in FCS with a 28.9-yard average on kickoff returns after leading the nation with a 31.2 average as a junior. In his career, Jerome scored eight touchdowns on three kickoff returns, two interceptions, one punt return, one fumble return and one receiving touchdown.

What about the competition? Well, Jerome played in the Senior Bowl and, before that, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. He had two interceptions in the NFLPA game to win MVP honors. At the prestigious Senior Bowl, he had two interceptions, one forced fumble and one tackle for loss.

"I was underrated coming out of high school because I played quarterback, so nobody wanted to take a chance on me. My old linebacker coach found me at an All-Star game and they offered me. I went up there and loved the school and committed the next day."

How dominant is Jerome? So dominant that he made a teammate quit after the second day of camp. “The kid left that night, and I 100-percent believe it was because 'Zo was so physical and so motivated,” said Scott Benzel, who was the team’s defensive coordinator before taking the head job at Westminster. “It was the first time this kid ever met someone who was not only his equal but someone who completely dominated him.”

Jerome is trying to become the first SFU player drafted by the NFL since Ed Stofko was taken in the ninth round of the 1945 draft by the Chicago/Pittsburgh Cardinals/Steelers.  The last SFU player to appear in an NFL game was Joe Restic in 1952 for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jadar Johnson, Clemson (6-0, 198): Johnson didn’t start until he was a senior but made that season count, posting 61 tackles, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven passes defensed to earn first-team all-ACC honors He had nine interceptions in his career.

Not bad for a kid who considered quitting early in his career. “The crazy thing is when I first came here I didn't have any vision of what I was going to be, what I was going to do here. I just came here young-minded and ready for college. I got here and I really struggled at first. I really wanted to go back home, but Coach (Dabo) Swinney wouldn't let me go home. I think I took like a weekend off my first spring. I took a weekend off. I went home and I came back and I was really just trying to make it through.”

Following the team’s Orange Bowl victory to cap the 2013 season, Swinney turned his team loose in Miami. Johnson, tired of being a backup, headed to South Beach. The actual sand, and worked out.

Johnson knows all about great teams. Along with starting for this year’s national champions, he played on same AAU basketball team with Kris Jenkins, who scored the game-winning shot for Villanova in the 2016 NCAA championship game, first-round NBA Draft choice Brice Johnson of North Carolina and former Clemson guard Jordan Roper.

John Johnson, Boston College (6-1, 205): Johnson was a two-year starter who turned in back-to-back seasons of three interceptions. As a senior, he had 77 tackles, including 2.5 for losses, and broke up nine passes with one forced fumble. As a junior, when he finished the season at cornerback, he had 63 tackles, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one blocked kick.

Josh Jones, N.C. State (6-2, 215): Junior. After a self-described “bad year,” Jones posted big numbers — 109 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses, three interceptions, eight pass breakups and one forced fumble — in his final season Despite those big numbers, the best he could do was honorable mention on the all-ACC team. In three seasons, he posted 229 tackles, eight interceptions, 17 pass breakups and three forced fumbles. That includes four interceptions as a freshman, when he was a Freshman All-American.

That big first year proved to be his downfall in 2015. “You’re going into the next year and you’re thinking, ‘I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.’ You get kind of big-headed. Complacency leads to failure.” It was a different story in 2016.

Desmond King, Iowa (5-11, 206): King had a huge junior season, tying the school record with eight interceptions. He was a unanimous first-teal All-American, winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back and recipient of the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Conference Defensive Back of the Year. Rather than enter the draft, King returned for his senior campaign. The numbers weren’t quite as good — three interceptions and seven additional breakups, 10.2 yards per punt return and 27.8 yards per kickoff return. One of his final home games came against Michigan. The Detroit native’s emotions boiled over — both positively and negatively.

King went back to Iowa so he could become the first member of his family to earn his degree. Why so important? In part because his older brother, Armon Golson, was shot and killed in Detroit in 2012. “Whenever I’m out there, he’s out there,” King said. “And if he was alive, he would be here right now. It’s something I carry with me everywhere I go.”

Along with earning degrees in African-American studies and broadcast journalism, he earned his master’s degree in film study. “As a corner you’re not supposed to know what the whole field is doing” King said, “but I felt like knowing what everyone on the field is doing at one time. I’m better for it.”

King might play cornerback or he might play safety in the NFL. Wherever he lines up, he’ll get his hands on the football. He owns the Michigan high school record with 29 interceptions. He nabbed 14 picks at Iowa.

Bill Huber is publisher of and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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